You have an enemy that subtly lurks in the last place you’d look. Only wisdom and virtue expose this enemy and free you from its primitive control.
The enemy is between your ears. It’s the primitive part of our brain called the reptilian brain. It has an important evolutionary purpose, but can inspire destructive behavior if we live life through its primitive ego lens.
It is solely concerned with survival. Its chief characteristics include regulating our fight or flight responses, inspiring territoriality, slavish obedience to rituals and authority, cold blooded behavior, and an inability to adapt to change.
It’s quite interesting to notice the attributes are all valuable in a ruthless Hobbesian dystopia where physical survival is never guaranteed, but in today’s world such attributes will lead you to a certain early death, whether it be physical, social, or spiritual.
19th-century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, put forward the idea that all of humanity, at some level, is driven by a will to power. This is not necessarily dark or sinister. It all depends on why you want power and what you will do with it.
In all of us exists the potential to commit great acts of Good and Evil. The destructive Evil is born from your reptilian brain and its power over you is directly proportional to your unawareness of its existence.
So what does financial freedom have to do with your reptilian brain and Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of the will to power? The dominant attributes that stem from the reptilian brain are antithetical to achieving financial freedom because one must be adaptable in the face of a constantly changing landscape.
One must have the ability to question established dogma and societal rituals and create a life of their choosing. Additionally, you must be cognizant of what is motivating your will to financial power. Someone living in a primitive state of mind seeks such power to exert their will on others, to impress their contemporaries, and prove through the endless accumulation of wealth that they are ‘elites’, while all others are plebeians.
Those are some of the primitive motivators, but what’s deleterious to human progress are the methods employed by someone living in a primitive state of mind to achieve financial power.
Of course, there are degrees of barbarous actions, but they express themselves in more benign forms by way of selling products based on deception and manipulation all the way to the most grotesque acts of human indecency such as instigating a war in order to sell weapons to the opposing armies.
These are expressions of Mankind’s primitive self, emanating from the reptilian brain. Do not think you are incapable of such acts of moral degradation. The truth is we all are because these are hardwired features of all of our minds.
Just because we all have the potential to commit inhumane acts doesn’t mean we are destined to, but the acquisition of power is an extremely dangerous circumstance to someone who has not sought virtue and self knowledge beforehand.
This is the key point I want to convey. If you do not heed the counsel of Socrates and acquire virtue and wisdom before power, then power will destroy you, as it has done to millions before you. What would be the value of acquiring wealth if the seeds of self destruction, by way of lacking virtue and wisdom, conspire to assassinate you when you are at seemingly untouchable heights?
Showing humanity the importance of knowledge, wisdom, and virtue was so important to Socrates that he did not blink to die in the name of these principles.
At the conclusion of Socrates’ speech to 500 of his fellow Athenians he said, “When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them…if they seem to care about riches, or anything, more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing, – then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when they are really nothing. And if you do this, I and my sons will have received justice at your hands.”
What good is there in a life lacking virtue? Make wisdom, virtue, and self knowledge your number one priorities and your motivations will remain loyal to you as a human being and your eventual success of achieving financial freedom will not serve your primitive self, but your more enlightened self. Furthermore, your success will become an instrument for Good instead of an instrument used to accelerate Man’s self destruction.
“Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that the greatest good of man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living – that you are still less likely to believe.”
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
That was one of several crucial ideas Socrates sought to ingrain into the consciousness of his fellow Athenians. Again Socrates bestows on us timeless wisdom that those seeking financial freedom can use as a growth accelerator. Let’s dive deeper into the consequences of living the unexamined life and the examined life.
Wouldn’t life be so much more comfortable and less turbulent if we weren’t constantly questioning our motivations and the way we lived? We could blame a litany of forces that are responsible for our failures. Common punching bags include our parents, our ‘friends’, our government, the economy, or maybe plain bad luck. Who wants the discomfort of responsibility and critical thought?
Furthermore, how about people born into poverty in America? If anyone has a cause to curse their circumstances and the things outside their control it would be the young child born on the unforgiving streets of any ghetto in America and raised by a single parent and the brutality of crime.
The reason poverty is so persistent is that it’s a self reinforcing intergenerational phenomenon. We should have compassion for people who, at no fault of their own, were given an unjust start to their life. We can all understand someone being angry at the world for what they had to go through as a child because of the harshness of their circumstances, but blaming others can only get you so far because wherever you are in life can be transcended by strategic action.
You will only see what needs to be done if you consistently live the examined life. If you never turn the mirror inwards the blueprint will never materialize. How else can you improve if you are not open to feedback from the universe? This applies to financial success just as much as any other worthy endeavor in life.
The path to financial independence is not a linear ascension. The single most important factor in your rate of acceleration to financial freedom is your ability to learn, adapt, change, and overcome. If you buy a triplex in San Francisco, for example, with the strategy of renting to young well to do professionals and having $500 in cash flow per month, but after the first 4 months you’re cash flow negative, then the situation is trying to teach you something. Examine your analysis before buying the home and pinpoint where you went wrong. The examination will tell you the blueprint.
In the end, your choice to live the examined or unexamined life is a reflection of your highest values. If you seek comfort and ease then the unexamined life is preferable, but if you seek continuous improvement, growth, and achievement then living the examined life is absolutely necessary.